Disclaimer: I am a white lady. I am working to make myself as aware and informed as possible. This article is part of my effort to educate other white folks about racism and its effects. If I’ve gotten anything wrong or missed the mark here, please let me know. I want to do better. If there are any resources that would be helpful to add to this piece, please send them to me!

February is Black History Month in the United States. Of course, as a nation, we should be celebrating the history and contributions of Black Americans every day. But unfortunately, people of color are still viewed as a minority interest group in our society, so we have to create specific dates to center them.

This week, I want to focus on the long-lasting economic effects of racism. Money touches every part of our lives. We need it in order to survive. We need it in order to thrive. Whether or not we have it affects what we have access to. It affects our health and the health of our families. Similarly, racism affects every part of life. Below is just a few ways that money and racism intersect, and how that affects people throughout their lives.

College Admissions

I’m sure you’ve heard of affirmative action, which is the policy of promoting the education and employment of members of groups that have previously suffered from discrimination. A lot of the conversation around affirmative action makes it sound like it’s a discriminatory process that favors people specifically for the color of their skin. The truth is, white people (and white men, especially) have always been favored due to the color of their skin. That is why white people hold more of the wealth, more positions of power, more seats in Congress, etc.

Historically, racism has prevented people of color from being admitted to college, both explicitly, and because tuition is prohibitively expensive. Additionally, even if someone is able to attend college, racism still has effects on campus. These issues prevent people of color from getting the education that they desire or require in order to enter the career field of their choice. This has a domino effect through communities and families as folks are not able to build wealth.

To learn more about affirmative action and how it helps communities of color, visit IHEP.


Welfare is a government program which provides financial aid to individuals or groups who are unable to support themselves. These programs are funded by taxes and allow people to deal with financial stress during hard times. The six major welfare programs in the United States are Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income, Earned Income Tax Credit, and Housing Assistance. These programs provide support for basic needs, like food, healthcare, and housing, and were created to be a safety net for folks who either fall under hard times or are physically or mentally unable to care for themselves.

Where does racism come into play here? There is a false belief that people of color are the only ones using these programs. There is also a false belief that those people are taking advantage of the programs when they don’t need them. Have you ever heard of the racist term “welfare queen”? Language like that perpetuates the belief that the people who need these programs are just lazy or are defrauding the system. That is obviously not the case! Welfare programs are based on a family’s income. To qualify, their income must be below an income based on the federal poverty level. These beliefs make it so that lawmakers often feel justified in cutting funding for these incredibly important and necessary programs.

Here’s the truth about welfare:

(Source: Lexington Law)

As you can see, welfare helps many of us at any given time in our lives. We need to strengthen and expand these programs, not weaken them. It is these programs that help people get back on their feet and raise healthy children.

The Prison Industrial Complex

The Prison Industrial Complex is a term that describes “the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems”.

Between 1980 and 2015, the number of people incarcerated in America increased from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million. That’s HUGE. The United States accounts for 20 percent of the world’s incarcerated population, while only making up 5 percent of the world’s overall population. I’m not an expert on incarceration, but I’d say that’s a problem, and I would be willing to guess that much of this is due to the privatization of prisons.

How does this affect people of color?

(Source: NAACP)

For more information about prison reform, check out the Pew Charitable Trusts and Justice Policy Institute.

The Racial Wage Gap

I’ve written a lot about the gender wage gap, but there is also a racial wage gap. And of course, half of people of color are also women, so there is a double wage gap for them.

Just with the gender wage gap, this means that people of color make less money over the course of their lifetime. This means they are saving less for retirement, have less money to invest in things like real estate, and have less money to put towards education. The wage gap reverberates throughout life and across generations.

For more information on the racial and gender wage gaps, visit AAUW, Pew Research Center, and NWLC.

Generational Wealth

Access to education, good healthcare, and fair wages affects us beyond our own lives. It affects the legacy we leave behind and the generations that come after us. Of course, for people of color in the United States, there are many hurdles that prevent them from having these things. This means that generational wealth is not a given as something that can be passed down.

Here are some statistics:

You can see how this would mean that people of color are starting off life with much less of an advantage than white people.

For more information about the racial wealth gap, visit IASP.

Racism in Medicine

Access to affordable, effective healthcare is a human right. And I’ll be blunt about it: racism causes people of color to receive worse care. When you’re not likely to be treated well or taken seriously by the medical industry, you’re less likely to seek out help. This leads to delayed diagnoses which can worsen the outcomes.

A specific way that this plays out is during pregnancy and childbirth. In Washington, DC, the maternal maternity rate for black women is four times as high as it is for white women. In the same city! It’s gotten to crisis levels.

From Women’s Wire Weekly: “If you live in DC, contact your councilperson today and urge them to vote for the Certified Professional Midwife Act, which has the support of reproductive justice advocates and birthworkers in the community, like the providers at Mamatoto Village, and will help bridge the gap in care for black women in maternal care deserts by establishing training and oversight of culturally competent professionals who can legally assist in births outside of a hospital setting.”

For more resources on the medical affects of racism, visit The Commonwealth Fund.

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